Paid Newspaper Sites? What. Ever.

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Here’s another venture trying to figure out how to throw up a 20th century gate in front of online newspaper content:

From the New York Times (still free):
Three longtime media executives are building an automated system to allow newspapers and magazines to charge for online access…Journalism Online L.L.C., aims to supply publishers with ready-made tools to charge Internet fees…an idea…whose prospects of success are doubted by many media analysts.

So, ad revenue for the big newspapers and magazines isn’t paying the bills?  Lower your cost structure, print half the amount of physical copies, fire middle management, bring in more bloggers for content and tell your reporters to say more interesting things (they should be paid based on how many people read their stuff).

There, I fixed the print news business.

The problem with restricting access to content is that no one online will link to it.  And if no one links to you, your mindshare declines (yes, there is a such thing).  Then your credibility suffers.  Then no one cares and Sam Zell comes in and convinces the union to finance his buyout of your company with your own pensions.  Don’t take my word for it, ask someone who worked for Tribune.

Does gossip rag US Weekly really think its going to implement a $15 a month fee just so my friend Erin can go to their site to look at pictures of Victoria Beckham paying a traffic ticket?  Good luck.  Erin will go the ad-supported, hipper and editorially superior version of US Weekly, PerezHilton.com.  This will be repeated in every category of content until the magazine companies buy the blogs themselves or fold.

For newspapers it is worse.  If they think Ebay, Craigslist and Monster.com stealing the classifieds business out from under them was bad, wait til they see what happens when 80% of the country starts getting their morning and evening news ONLINE ONLY!  If one newspaper makes its online site off limits except to subscribers, then its crosstown or national rival will simply offer the same story on a free site and suck up all the readers they want.

“There are all these religious debates going on about how to do this, and it’s too early for anyone to be making those decisions,” Mr. Brill said. “No one knows which approach is going to work. So we’re offering all of them.”

Let me help you out, Mr. Brill, there are maybe FOUR newspapers/mags in existence that enough people out there are willing to pay for on a regular basis.  The rest are like Highlights Magazine in the dentist office, they’re just kind of there.

Full Story:  Media Execs Plan Online Service Charge (NYT)

Full Disclosure:  I have no positions in the stocks of any companies mentioned